Duterte orders "military takeover" of Customs
President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered a "military takeover" of the Bureau of Customs amid the multi-billion illegal drug smuggling controversy.
In a speech in Davao City Sunday night, Duterte saidCustoms officials and employees, particularly those manning the X-ray machines, including its police, are all in floating status and they will report to Malacanang.
"The Customs Intelligence Unit, they are to report to Malacanang, all of them. I am ordering everybody to report to my office...they will hold office there at the Malacanang gymnasium. All of them," he said, adding he will issue a memorandum related to his order.
Duterte directed incoming BOC Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero to coordinate with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and seek for "technical soldiers" who will do the job at the BOC.
"It will be a takeover of the Armed Forces in the matter of operating in the meantime while we are sorting out how to effectively meet the challenges of corruption in this country," Duterte said.
Before a container is released from the Customs control, he said there will be three people who will sign it.
"And yet we cannot just move on because we want to be lawfully correct, so gradual. But with this kind of games that they are playing, dirty games, I am forced now to ask the Armed Forces to take over," he added.
He said the basis of his order to the AFP is the existing declaration of state of lawlessness in the country.
"Remember that I have issued during the first days of my term, this is the declaration of lawlessness. Part of the lawless elements are there inside the Bureau of Customs," he said.
While other BOC staff and officials might claim that they were not corrupt, Duterte said he could not speculate who really are the gangsters working for the BOC.
"I do not have time for that...you try to sort our there from the inside. No, I'd like them out, then one by one if they still deserve (they'll be back). If none, then since I cannot fire them, I'll have to file a case which could ---appeal after appeal it could maybe last for another 10 years. And so by that time, we have lost so many billions and you are destroying my country," he explained.
Duterte asked Guerrero to coordinate with the suppliers of the machines for the training of the soldiers who will be manning the equipment.
Duterte has removed Isidro Lapena as head of the BOC and transferred him to Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.
Lapena's transfer was ordered after the P11-billion worth (formerly estimated at P6.8 billion by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency), allegedly slipped past the BOC last August. This was after four empty magnetic lifters, which were the illegal drugs were allegedly concealed, were found in Cavite.
In a press briefing on Monday, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Duterte's order was based on his constitutional mandate of protecting and serving the citizenry.
He said the designation of the military men would only be temporary.
But at the same time, he said the soldiers would be monitoring those BOC personnel who have expertise in doing the work at the BOC, including the computation of taxes and other duties.
Panelo also assuaged concern that there could be delays in the release of cargoes.
"There is no lag, stoppage of the service provided by the BOC. There will be continuity of services," he said. Celerina Monte/DMS